By Mary Pat Curran ’75
IT STARTED WITH A TEXT to my phone, from a distant acquaintance. Frank Phelan is dead, it said. There was an obit in The Enterprise. I wanted to scream. I felt as I had felt several times recently at funerals and wakes of others who had drifted away: I should have called sooner. I should have made more of an effort. I felt a limb had been wrenched from my body.
However, something just didn’t line up. I selfishly felt I would somehow know if this text told the truth. I hadn’t talked to Frank since 2011 or 2012 when my own dad had declined in health and passed away. Up until then, we had stayed in touch and I valued that connection.
I met Father Phelan in 1973 when he came to Stonehill and opened the world of Irish Studies to me. Yeats. Joyce. Mary Lavin. Paddy Moloney and the Irish tin whistle. A school trip to Ireland with staff and students—and a circle of friends who changed my life and opened my mind. Frank showed us the Book of Kells, drank sherry and tea with us in heavy fog at Bray, and urged us to trundle out to Glendalough no matter what. Having Frank for a professor broadened my world the way education should.
Using my skills as a research paralegal, I set out to find Frank, who had since left the religious life and married. He and Anne Francis were magic together. Two doctorates. Two parallel but separate struggles with the Church over decades. Two hearts dedicated to each other and tied to the lives of their students.
Facebook is a great tool but, at ninety years old, Frank had not posted in a very long time. The phone number and latest address I had for Frank and Anne Francis were both no good. I called and left messages. I wrote letters to possible relatives in different states, but no one responded. So many dead ends. Then, by chance, I found a tiny entry from a funeral home north of Seattle that Anne Francis had died just months before. I felt sure Frank was still out there. Someplace. Likely in Washington State.
Three odd chances led to Frank’s current phone number and, suddenly, his voice was in my ear, talking to me from a quiet San Juan island. He was good. He remembered all of us.
He remembered all of us.He remembered our
writing, our dreams and our growing-up.
I wanted to squish through the phone and sit beside him and talk again about Ireland and the Rock of Cashel and plays at the Gaiety Theatre.
My college roommate, Robyn Packer Jagust ’75, her sister Liz, and I flew to Seattle, crossed to the island on a ferry, and drove through another 40 miles of lilacs and dogwood and rhododendrons to Frank’s home. He was waiting out front for us, and we flew up the walk to hug him and hear his voice and tease him that his full head of white hair had not changed in over 40 years. I expected to cry but I didn’t. I just smiled and laughed and smiled even more with Frank all the rest of the day.
When my dear dad died, I wished the fervent wish of millions that I still wish every day. I wished I’d had just one more day with my father. Thanks to a sketchy text message, I was given that magical day with Frank—my teacher, my encouragement, my friend, who knew my dad and whom my dad admired—and it was a hundred times better than I could ever have anticipated.
PHOTO ABOVE: Mary Pat Curran ’75, center, and her college roommate, Robyn Packer Jagust ’75, reunite with their former professor Frank Phelan in San Juan, Wash.
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